Sexual assault evidence bill passes House subcommittee in Georgia

A bill that would require law enforcement to submit neglected sexual assault evidence for DNA testing was approved unanimously by a House subcommittee Thursday afternoon.

House Bill 827, known as the Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act, would also require evidence for new cases, stored in packages known as rape kits, to be submitted to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s forensic testing division within 30 days after collection. The legislation addresses a national problem in which police agencies locked away untested kits even when they contained valuable DNA evidence and victims wanted to prosecute. The bill would also require law enforcement agencies to tally untested kits they have kept in storage.

“We know there is an issue here in the state of Georgia. What we don’t know is exactly how bad it is,” state Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, said during a House Judiciary Non-Civil subcommittee meeting.

Representatives from women’s advocacy groups, law enforcement agencies and hospitals weighed in to support the bill during the hearing.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation last year found that Grady Memorial Hospital had locked away more than 1,400 rape kits in file cabinets on the mistaken belief that federal medical privacy regulations barred them from giving the kits to law enforcement. Officers had also failed to pick up the evidence after it was collected.